Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Many Delights of a Cast Iron Skillet, and a Recipe for Cornbread

How do I love thee, my cast iron skillets? Let me count the ways.

Cost: Good luck trying to pay more than $30 for one of any size. Plus, you can buy them at the hardware store. For the money, a cast iron pan simply cannot be beat.

Durability: People own their cast iron pieces for decades. And I have heard plenty of stories about the abuse that is heaped upon them, and yet they still are in use.

Non-stickiness: Forget teflon or whatever surface is the latest non-stick thing. After a few uses, the cast iron is non-stick. Really.

Flavor: Cast irons are excellent at conducting heat, which means the pans get hot and stay hot. And in general, heat brings flavor. These pans sear meat, brown crusts, and caramelize veggies better than any other pan I own.

Truth in advertising: here are the negatives. A cast iron skillet is heavier than most other pans. My 12-inch skillet definitely needs two hands, but I consider "cast iron lifting" part of my workout routine. And some cooks don't like how the handles get hot, but I'm acclimated to that as well. Besides, there are little silicone handle covers to help with that.

What do I cook in my cast iron? I sauté any ol' veggie I can, like green beans or carrots, using a small bit of oil and high heat. I roast chickens. This week I did a breaded pork chop. I cook fritters and pancakes and frittatas and grilled cheese sandwiches. Basically, my pans never get put away. They just sit on the stove since I use them almost daily.

Cornbread is a popular side dish in my house, and baking it in the cast iron delivers a crusty outside and a moist inside. You can use an 8x8 baking dish for this recipe, but honestly, it's better in the cast iron. Trust me.

Corn gets a bad rap, but not all corn is turned into high fructose corn syrup. A whole grain cornmeal has a number of good things inside. This recipe is heavy on the cornmeal and light on the wheat flour for that very reason. 

Skillet Cornbread
adapted from Mark Bittman

1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal (I use Geechie Boy Mill cornmeal when I can!)
1/2 c. flour (white or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
4 T. vegetable oil
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 egg
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, buttermilk, egg and brown sugar.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Place butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet and place on high heat. When butter is bubbling, swirl around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and scrape batter into the skillet. Bake until bread is cracked and slightly browned, 25-30 minutes.

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